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3 Running Octave from Within Emacs

Octave mode provides commands for running an inferior Octave process in a special Emacs buffer. Use

M-x run-octave

to directly start an inferior Octave process.

This will start Octave in a special buffer the name of which is specified by the variable inferior-octave-buffer and defaults to *Inferior Octave*. From within this buffer, you can interact with the inferior Octave process “as usual”, i.e., by entering Octave commands at the prompt. The buffer is in Inferior Octave mode, which is derived from the standard Comint mode, a major mode for interacting with an inferior interpreter. See the documentation for comint-mode for more details, and use C-h b to find out about available special keybindings.

You can also communicate with an inferior Octave process from within files with Octave code (i.e., buffers in Octave mode), using the following commands.

C-c C-i l

Send the current line to the inferior Octave process (octave-send-line). With positive prefix argument n, send that many lines. If octave-send-line-auto-forward is non-nil, go to the next unsent code line.

C-c C-i b

Send the current block to the inferior Octave process (octave-send-block).

C-c C-i f

Send the current function to the inferior Octave process (octave-send-defun).

C-c C-i r

Send the region to the inferior Octave process (octave-send-region).

C-c C-i a

Send the entire buffer to the inferior Octave process (octave-send-buffer). If the buffer is associated with a file then sourcing the buffer by using C-c C-l (octave-source-file) should be preferred.

C-c C-i s

Make sure that inferior-octave-buffer is displayed (octave-show-process-buffer).

C-c C-i q

Delete all windows that display the inferior Octave buffer (octave-hide-process-buffer).

C-c C-i k

Kill the inferior Octave process and its buffer (octave-kill-process).

C-c C-l

Parse and execute the current file in the inferior Octave buffer (octave-source-file). This is done using Octave’s source function.


Find the definition of a function or variable. Functions implemented in C++ can be found if variable octave-source-directories is set correctly (octave-find-definition).

C-h d

Display the documentation for function (octave-help). The buffer name can be changed by customizing octave-help-buffer.

C-h a

Search for a given string in all the first sentence of function help strings (octave-lookfor). With a universal-argument the entire help string is searched.

The effect of the commands which send code to the Octave process can be customized by the following variables.


Non-nil means echo input sent to the inferior Octave process. Default is t.


Non-nil means display the buffer running the Octave process after sending a command (but without selecting it). Default is t.

If you send code and there is no inferior Octave process yet, it will be started automatically.

The startup of the inferior Octave process is highly customizable. The variable inferior-octave-startup-args can be used for specifying command lines arguments to be passed to Octave on startup as a list of strings. For example, to suppress the startup message and use “traditional” mode, set this to ("-q" "--traditional"). You can also specify a startup file of Octave commands to be loaded on startup; note that these commands will not produce any visible output in the process buffer. Which file to use is controlled by the variable inferior-octave-startup-file. The default is ~/.emacs-octave or if this file is not found ~/.emacs.d/init_octave.m.

By customizing inferior-octave-prompt-read-only the prompt can be changed to be read only. The default value is the same as comint-prompt-read-only.

And finally, inferior-octave-mode-hook is run after starting the process and putting its buffer into Inferior Octave mode. Hence, if you like the up and down arrow keys to behave in the interaction buffer as in the shell, and you want this buffer to use nice colors, add

(add-hook 'inferior-octave-mode-hook
          (lambda ()
            (define-key inferior-octave-mode-map [up]
            (define-key inferior-octave-mode-map [down]

to your .emacs or init.el file. You could also swap the roles of C-a (beginning-of-line) and C-c C-a (comint-bol) using this hook.

Note that if you set your Octave prompts to something different from the defaults, make sure that inferior-octave-prompt matches them. Otherwise, nothing will work, because Emacs will not know when Octave is waiting for input, or done sending output.

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